The Eating...Our Words 100: Trancito Diaz, Chef and Owner at La Guadalupana

Who is he?

La Guadalupana Bakery and Café is a small unassuming restaurant tucked away in the corner of a small lot that it shares with a convenience store and a washateria. It's easy to miss if you're driving down Dunlavy any given day of the week and not actively looking for it. However, if you do venture inside you will discover some of the best Mexican food Houston has to offer.

Receiving recognition from the Houston Press numerous times over the last few years for its breakfast -- and its migas in particular -- La Guadalupana is a gem in Montrose. This is due to owner and head chef Trancito Diaz, who opened the restaurant over a decade ago. Diaz first came to the United States as an immigrant from Mexico in 1982, where he started out as a simple dishwasher. This first job would serve as a mere jumping off point that would eventually lead to Diaz opening his own establishment.

What does he do?

Diaz oversees the full menu at La Guadalupana. Over the years he has acquired a binder full of recipes. "This is my binder, It holds all the recipes I've obtained over the years with my own personal modifications to fit my own style and make them unique to me". He manages the restaurant every day and employees his son, Robert, as a manager as well.

How did you end up where you're at today?

Diaz first learned to bake back home in his own kitchen. However, when he first moved here he got a job as a dishwasher as the River Oaks Country Club. After about three months at the country club, an opportunity to become a baker opened and he went for the job. Three months after that move he was promoted to head baker. After some time at the country club, Diaz wanted more and decided to pursue French baking to expand his knowledge and skills of baking.

He acquired a job at French Gourmet bakery where he took a significant pay decrease. He initially started off just icing the cakes that were ready and picking up what he could here and there until the manager quit. Diaz then asked the owner to give him a shot. While the owner initially declined, he later changed his mind and gave Diaz the opportunity to manage.

"He said he would only show me how to make them once, and if I didn't get it right he would find someone else," recalls Diaz. While he got paid less than the previous manager, Diaz quickly proved his skills and was eventually well compensated for his work. Despite his position and situation, Diaz wanted more and so he left to pursue Italian baking.

He then got a job at Mama Mandola's, which supplied several restaurants with baked goods of all kinds. It was here that Diaz learned even more about baking and refined his skills even more. After some years here, the company closed and Diaz decided to continue filling the orders for roughly 25 restaurants from Mama Mandola's. Within the span of three months Diaz earned enough money to either buy a house or open his own bakery. He decided to take the chance and open the bakery.

"I had enough money to be comfortable and just settle on buying a house," says Diaz, "but I wanted something more. I took the money I saved up and opened the restaurant. However, when I first opened it we were only a bakery." He hired some employees and continued to supply restaurants.

The origin of a full food menu for La Guadalupana started off as just Diaz cooking for his employees. "We would work here and I would cook everyone lunch and people would stop in and ask us if we served food or just desserts," he says. "I told them we didn't serve food, but they were more than welcome to join us for lunch. It was here that I got the idea that maybe I should offer a full menu."

What inspires him?

Diaz says he derives inspiration from his customers' reception. "I enjoy seeing satisfaction in my customers," he says. "That they like the food I put out and I take their plates being empty as a good sign. When I see that I usually joke with them and ask if they didn't like their food. I always strive to make sure my customers are happy when they leave but I also want them to feel comfortable while they are here."

What does he do when he's not at work?

"I usually spend it thinking about how I can make the restaurant better in one way or another," says Diaz. "Something the customers will enjoy. When I'm not thinking about that I love spending time with my four children. I enjoy offering them all I can and showing them love. I always encourage them to love what they do and be the best at whatever they want to be. My son, Roberto, started working here and helps me manage the place. I am very proud of him and show him all I know so that he can one day run this place on his own."

If not this, then what?

Diaz is committed to his restaurant and finds it hard to see himself doing anything else. "I can't imagine doing nothing or just working at a regular job," he says. "I consider myself blessed with what I have because I love it. Being able to do something I enjoy and inspire my employees to show them where hard work can lead to."

If not here, then where?

"I've actually had opportunities to visit Moscow for a food workers' exchange type program," says Diaz. I applied for it and was accepted but when I was getting ready to leave my daughter broke down and started crying. So I decided to stay for my family. I always saw myself in the U.S. to follow my dreams and succeed."

What's next for you?

"I am currently in the process of building a shopping center. I bought land out in Pasadena a while back with money I've saved from the business and hope to expand out there. We are just waiting on the permits to clear to start building. Hopefully that will start within the next two months. It's going to be called Plaza de Guadalupana and I plan to open a second café there alongside other businesses."

The Eating...Our Words 100:

- Randy Evans, Chef at Haven and Farm-to-Table Godfather - Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan, Chefs and Owners of The Pass & Provisions - Kaiser Lashkari, Owner and Chef of Himalaya Restaurant - Nicole and Michael Graham, Owners of The Garden Hen - Staci Davis, Owner of Radical Eats - Philippe Verpiand, Owner and Chef at Etoile Cuisine et Bar - Tyler Horne, Market Manager at Urban Harvest Farmers Market - Stephanie Earthman Baird, Bringing Wine to Cowboys - Yilmaz "Jim" and Deanna Dokuyucu, Husband-and-Wife Owners of Turquoise Grill - Dan Tidwell of Treebeards on Downtown Houston's Past, Present and Future - Kiran Verma, Executive Chef and Owner of Kiran's Restaurant & Bar - Catherine Rodriguez, Pastry Chef at The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa - Jody Stevens, Owner and Cake Designer of jodycakes - Bobby Heugel, Owner of Anvil, Blacksmith, The Hay Merchant and OKRA's Charity Saloon - Renatta Lindsey, The Taste Contestant and Houston Home Cook - Enrique Bravo of Pollo Bravo on How Selling Chicken Helped Him Realize His American Dream - Sean Beck, Sommelier Extraordinaire - Brooksy Smith, Owner of JerryBuilt Homegrown Burgers - Minh Nguyen, Owner of Cafe TH and One of Houston's Best Front-of-House Personalities - Tiffany Tyler and Aimee Turney of Central City Co-Op - Ellen Schwartz, Culinary Instructor & Private Chef - James DeLeon, Certified Sommelier and Craft Beer Nut at Kroger - Alex Padilla, Executive Chef at Ninfa's on Navigation - Kevin Strickland, Herder of Cats at gratifi, a.k.a. Ziggy's - Ron Chen, Owner and "Head Coach" at Rattan Pan-Asian Bistro - Brock Wagner, Godfather of Craft Beer in Houston and Founder of Saint Arnold Brewery, the Oldest Microbrewery in Texas - Blanche Kinze, Murray's Cheese Master at Kroger - Bear Dalton, Wine Buyer & Educator, Spec's - Sam Ray of Republic National, Houston's Largest Wine Distributor - Thai Van, Server Extraordinaire at Kata Robata - Dale Robertson, a Populist Among Wine Writers - Denman Moody, Author of The Advanced Oenophile - Benjy Mason, Executive Chef at Down House

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Francisco Montes